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How Jane Austen Taught Me to Be a Fearless Female Traveler

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen

jane austen life lessons

When I was twelve years old, my sister-in-law gave me a beautifully bound copy of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, with a handwritten note inside saying how much she loved these books growing up with her sisters and how she hoped one day I would come to love them too. Giving her a hug and rolling my eyes behind her back like any pompous pre-teen girl wishing for movies and clothes instead of paper, I let those books gather dust on my shelves for about a year before touching them again.

By then I was thirteen and just as stuck-up, though I had developed some absurd desire to prove my intelligence to everyone around me. I decided the best way to do this was to expand my vocabulary by buying a 365 word of the day desk calendar and by reading as many great classic books as possible and memorizing their opening line, so I could say things like, oh yes, “call me Ishmael” or “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” just to prove how literate I was around my classmates. I’m sure you can imagine how popular this made me in high school.

jane austen life lessons

You can also probably guess where I am going with this. By the time I rediscovered Jane Austen on my shelf, I plowed through Pride and Prejudice in one day, and completely, irrevocably fell in love with my namesake character and of course, Mr. Darcy. After that, it was all downhill, and I’ve been the biggest Jane Austen fan ever since, following in her footsteps in Bath, England and enrolling in Jane Austen seminars in college for extracurriculars.

If I could meet anyone dead or alive, Jane Austen would definitely make my top 5 list, along with Hemingway, Queen Elizabeth I, Augustus Caesar and Tolkien (if that doesn’t give you some insight into my personality, I don’t know what will).

All of which begs the question, why is so Jane Austen so timeless and so damn popular 200 years later?

jane austen life lessons

Chawton House in Hampshire, England, where Jane Austen lived, source

I heartily believe that if Jane Austen were alive today, she would be one of the most popular bloggers out there. Why? Because not only did she know how to relate to women (and open-minded men), but also encouraged them to find their inner strength and purpose in life in the most sarcastic and romantic way possible. Boom. How many bloggers can do that?

How does that relate to travel and inspiring me to be a fearless female traveler? What does this have to do with anything? Curious minds want to know. Well for me, my love for Jane Austen helped shape my dreams for travel and my determination to have an awesome life exploring the world.

jane austen life lessons

Not that Miss Austen herself traveled very much, but I think that the themes found in her novels and letters can inspire everyone to follow their dreams, whether it be traveling or something else entirely.

For me, Jane Austen was the original independent-minded woman and her morals and ideas echoed in her characters have a lot to teach us. Usually people liken her themes to love and relationships, but since I’ve become bitter in the romance department, I’ve chosen to apply her themes to travel and becoming a strong independent adventuress instead.

Here are 5 ways in which Jane Austen has encouraged me to travel fearlessly:

Has Jane Austen or any other writer or figure inspired you to travel?

jane austen life lessons

jane austen life lessons

1. Don’t settle for anything and be patient

This is something I think everyone faces at one point or another; do you settle for a comfortable, average life because that is what’s expected or what is easy? Or do you chose to challenge yourself, take risks, and go further than what is predictable with the faint hope for something extraordinary. Is there anything worse than looking back on a moment in your life with regret or having the thought, “why didn’t I do that?”

In her novels, Austen’s heroines are always rewarded for their steadfastness, dedication and patience. Lizzy Bennet, Fanny Price and even Jane herself refuse comfortable offers of marriage in the hope of something more. I think women face this exact issue nowadays, preferring to focus on the dream of a perfect house, white picket fence, handsome husband and 2.5 children (for example) and compromising career goals and ambitions. Don’t settle for anything less than your dreams.

This can be directly applied to travel. How many people have I met that have told me, “I wish I could do what you do and travel the world like you do.” Newsflash ladies, you totally can! Make it a priority and it’s completely possible and remember: WWJD: What Would Jane Do? My dreams are seeing the world and I’m killing myself to make it happen, and I’m doing it on my own as a women, not compromising for anything less.

jane austen life lessons

2. Don’t be shy and be assertive

Jane Austen was the queen of showing just how women can take charge of their own world and lives. Shy and meek characters do not often thrive in Austen’s novels, only those who take become assertive and in command of their own lives. How little times have changed; 200 years later and this is still an issue women face all over the world, whether it’s traveling the globe or working your way up the corporate latter, women have been settling for less for far too long.

Did you know that less than 17% of board seats at Fortune 500 companies in the US are held by women? (source) And what is really sad is this massive gender gap is not only the result of antiquated, bigoted attitudes in the workplace, but also is a direct result of women not being aggressive or assertive and going after what they want.

You wouldn’t believe the crap I’ve heard over the years about traveling alone as a woman. Don’t get me wrong, there are truths to the dangers, but it is nowhere near as bad as modern stereotypes make it out to be. There is a reason that solo female travel blogs are a popular niche among bloggers, because there is a great need for it. I would have never gotten anywhere if I didn’t learn to be assertive and believe in myself and my decisions while traveling, not to mention actively trying to break down gender stereotypes while traveling.

jane austen life lessons

3. Self-growth is key

Learning through mistakes is a popular theme in many of Jane Austen’s novels, something all travelers must face as well. I’ve already written a lot about this before, but it warrants repeating. All of Austen’s great heroines go through a journey of self-discovery, and that moment of pure happiness eludes them until they come to some sort of self-realization, usually after a whopper of a mistake. My favorite example is when Lizzy Bennet realizes her assumptions about Mt. Darcy are completely wrong.

The same thing happens while traveling and living abroad. How can you ever hope to gain an enlightened, open-minded opinion of the world without ever seeing the world? Nothing forces you to examine yourself quite like being yanked out of your comfort zone and exploring the world.

For me travel and self-growth are irrevocably linked. Usually I see it as a process of effing something up royally, then recognizing that I messed up, a feeling of remorse and shame (the worst feelings ever!) followed up with a desire and determination to do better in the future. This happens to me in relationships at home and relationships abroad, but it’s a lot harder to ignore when traveling, and usually I have a harder time escaping reflection, usually because I spend absurd amounts of time on buses, trains and planes thinking, pondering, and dwelling.

jane austen life lessons

4. Be cautious but take risks too

What a difficult balance to find! Jane Austen is really effective about trying to find a balance between caution and risk-taking. She reminds us to be wary of just about anything, something that usually comes from trial-and-error (point #3). Look what happened to poor Miss Marianne Dashwood when she threw caution to the wind in Sense and Sensibility.

The same goes for traveling. If multiple people give you explicit warnings and advice about something, you should probably heed them. But at the same time it’s crucial to be open-minded to new opportunities and to take risks while traveling. I like to call them “calculated” risks, where the chance of me dying, being raped or kidnapped is kept to a minimum.

jane austen life lessons

jane austen life lessons

5. It’s ok to be a woman and have a brain

I went to a fancy-schmancy New England women’s college, and the 4 years I was there, I HATED all the of the idealist feminists I was forced to eat, sleep, and go to class with. You could probably call me the worst women’s college grad ever. But then I graduated, moved abroad and traveled for 2 years straight. One day I woke up and realized, I was actually kind of a feminist at heart, just don’t tell anyone.

How did this magical transformation come about? By traveling the world. One thing I have encountered over and over again on my journeys abroad and back at home is the same chauvinistic stereotype that women shouldn’t be aggressive or more powerful than men. Well, screw that. There is only one way to guarantee that you get what you want out of life and that’s to never give up and chase your dreams, end of story. I have met this stereotype head on and I determined to break it down on my blog.

Why should women who behave just as independently and as strongly as men be frowned upon? Any why the hell are books (and I hesitate to lump them in the same category as real literature) like Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray on the bestseller lists? God, it just reinforces the same notion that women should not be independent or strong-willed. I wish more young girls read Jane Austen instead of that garbage, and would recognize her values of independence, self-reliance, and the idea that it’s ok for women to be smart and strong-willed. Jane herself is the ultimate embodiment of this. A woman who refused to give up her writing and stories and settle for unhappiness in marriage.

jane austen life lessons

All photos unless otherwise noted are my own from Bath, England, where Jane Austen lived for a while. 

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57 Responses to How Jane Austen Taught Me to Be a Fearless Female Traveler

  1. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas January 30, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    I can’t say I was ever an Austen fan (it was required reading when I was in 8th grade), but I appreciate books and loved this post! I not-so-hastily made the connection with Frances Mayes’s ” A Year in the World.” The story starts off in Seville, and I realized I’d made my home there.

    • Liz January 31, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

      I love Frances Mayes!!

  2. Kwera January 30, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    Wonderful lessons! I love Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice is usually my go to book!

    • Liz January 31, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

      Me too, it’s my favorite 🙂

  3. Megan January 30, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    i think it is amazing that you know and can relate to an author from a different time period so much!

    of course i was busy reading spark notes in school as a kid while you were busy reading classics so no, i have not read anything by her…but this really compels me to do so sometime. 🙂

    it is so fascinating to me to see what inspires people to travel because we are all so different. i lived abroad before i remember and knew airports better than my bedroom…which was my inspiration from the age of like 4. for some people, it’s books. for others, it is people. it is so cool to think that in the end…we are all after the same thing…we just got there in a different way.

    great post as usual liz!

    • Liz January 31, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

      Thanks Megan! There is just something so timeless about Jane Austen, even just watching the movies, I own just about every version! There are so many different ways to be an “enlightened” traveler or person, but for me, it’s books 🙂

  4. Daniel Catalan January 30, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    I feel the same way about “The Picture of Dorian Gray” because one of the less abrasive themes of the book is to “always be seeking new sensations.” It’s really great that books are still pushing people to try and have it all!

    • Liz January 31, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

      That’s such a good book! I’m a huge Oscar Wilde fan, he was so sassy 🙂

  5. Clare January 30, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    Oh I am completely smiling as I read this post! You are a girl after my own heart as far as Jane Austen is concerned (check out my twitter profile)! And Mr Grey can just get lost. I’ll always be team Darcy.

    Much as I love Elizabeth and everything about her, My favourite quote from Pride and Prejudice is from Mr Bennett:

    “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”


    I love how Jane Austen has inspired you and your travels! Long may she inspire us all!

    • Liz January 31, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

      Great quote! Team Darcy forever 🙂

  6. Elizabeth Bostick January 30, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    My inspiration comes from David Sedaris, the author of ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’…he epitomizes life as a language learner in a foreign country, and it is hilarious. I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself when speaking Spanish or French, when I know that others are making mistakes. I mean, if a successful author can go into a French butcher shop and in attempting to ask ‘Are those calf’s brains?’ actually asks ‘Is thems the thoughts of cows?’…I know its ok for me to screw up grammatically once in awhile.

    • Liz January 31, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

      David Sedaris is hysterical! I love his books!

  7. Amanda January 31, 2013 at 1:08 am #

    What an awesome post!! (You really never can go wrong with Jane Austen + travel , though, can you?)

    • Liz January 31, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

      Thanks Amanda! Nope, they’re perfect together 🙂 love her

  8. Alisa January 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    What a post! Couldn’t have said it better myself. Jane Austen is the person I use as my guide to living as well. I constantly find myself asking WW(Jane)D? And I’ve spent a huge part of my travels going on what I call “pilgrimages” to places that were significant in her life or her books! So far I’ve made it to Winchester, Bath, Chawton cottage, and Brighton. I’d still love to go to Steventon and to the sites used in the filming of the movies of her books…particularly the 1995 P&P. Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, be still my heart.

    I’ve loved her since I was 11 years old (you’re not the only huge nerd around the blogosphere!) and she hasn’t steered me wrong yet. I just LOVE the message of not settling for what’s easy, of going after what you really want. It can be applied to just about anything in life. What a role model, a woman who truly lived as she taught, and did what she loved even though it wasn’t considered “acceptable” in her time. She’s also taught me a lot about how being shy and unassuming won’t get you anywhere. Say what you want and go after it! Great, great advice.

    • Liz January 31, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

      Sounds like we would be friends! I’m so glad you feel the same way! I’ve only done bath and Brighton but next time I’m in England, I’m planning to try to go to more of those places too!

      Colin Firth=the best Darcy 🙂

  9. Sara January 31, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    Great post, Liz! I really want that bag in the last photo. 🙂

    One of my absolute favorite authors who inspires me in travel but also to really consider human interaction and how to look at the world is E.M. Forster. A Room With A View is one of my all-time favorite books (and one of the few books brilliantly adapted to a movie) and it was one of the books that furthered my love affair with Italy, which was the first place I traveled on my own and ended up living for awhile.

    I think one of my favorite quotes–from the movie, actually–is, “The young English girl, transfigured by Italy. And why should she not be transformed? It happened to the Goths!”

    • Liz January 31, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

      In that’s an amazing quote! Thanks for reminding me to read that book! I’ve only ever see the movie 🙂

  10. Stephanie January 31, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    Awww! I re-read my high school copies of Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility for the first time in many years, just over a year ago, upon coming home from almost a decade abroad (Italy! I do miss it so 🙂 )… and your article is so spot-on. Jane Austen’s heroines were trailblazers in their own little realms, forging paths less travelled. What a great inspiration for us women!

    • Liz January 31, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

      Definitely trailblazers! I haven’t read them in 2 years, I think it’s time again 🙂

  11. Mariella January 31, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    As a female solo travel blogger who loves Jane Austen, I have absolutely nothing to add to that, except: amazing post, thank you so much!!!

    • Liz February 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

      Wahooo thanks Mariella!

  12. Nicole February 1, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    Fantastic blog post! I think it’s time for me to whip out that giant leather bound Jane Austen collection I never read. 😉

    • Liz February 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

      Whip it out girl!

  13. Petite Adventures February 1, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    What an inspiring post!! Jane Austen really was a trailblazer well ahead of her time!

    Kate xo

    • Liz February 3, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

      Thanks Kate!

  14. Chloe Milne February 3, 2013 at 5:59 am #

    Great post – you have inspired me to read Jane Austin – I share the same dismay with you about 50 shades! … (page 10)

    • Liz February 3, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

      I hate 50 Shades of Gray. Makes me so mad!

  15. clariss February 20, 2013 at 4:31 am #

    hi Liz! thanks for this post! awakened me. Im soon gonna read JA’s books. truly inspiring your posts are.

    Wish me luck as I conquer my fears and soon travel the world! thanks big time!

  16. Liz Swarthout March 7, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    I hope you’ve hear of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries! It’s a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, on Youtube!

  17. emma@gottakeepmovin April 3, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    As an avid fan of Jane Austen, Bath, and travelling as an independent woman, I love this post! Great stuff, thanks for sharing.

    • Liz April 4, 2013 at 12:59 am #

      thank you 🙂

  18. Tiffany Harrison April 16, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

    “Jane Austen was the original independent-minded woman…”

    GIRL! You and I speak the same language. I’m almost tempted to print it out and frame it haha. Considering I named my own blog after Jane, and regard her as my compass to navigating the modern world, I’m so glad I came across this! Keep up the fabulous writing 🙂

  19. Susanna August 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    Sorry to comment so late on a much earlier post…
    PRIDE AND PREJUDICE IS AMAZING, I love it and know some of the words (of the film!) off by heart. It’s my guilty pleasure and these reasons are exactly why…Elizabeth Bennet is the woman I want to be! Why should we just settle for a ‘normal’ and expected life when the world is out there and only we know what makes us truely happy?
    I’ve been feeling a bit down for a few weeks (post-travelling blues) and this has just cheered me right up. I live near Bath in England (literally less than a hour away!) and its my favourite city, it really is. I could spend hours drinking cream teas, eating Bath buns, and wondering around the Roman Baths. And now this has picked me up I’m going to spend my day off later in the week with a trip into Bath to treat myself and be the sophisticate lady that I know I can be just like Elizabeth Bennett!
    Your posts are amazing.
    P.s. Mr Darcy is also amazing.

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